Agrippa

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Small and Vulnerable

I work at a company that (as of recently) allows children to operate online clubs based on their interests. I shared this article (along with http://paulgraham.com/nerds.html ) with my team and my boss. So far it has been warmly recieved. I was reflecting with my boss about what your post meant to me and wrote the following:

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Explaining fully my intent in sharing would probably require as much effort and eloquence as the essay itself took to write, or more :p. 

I am alienated by how little skepticism is commonly directed at parents, teachers, and schooling. So I have these skeptical beliefs and they are so disconnected from the dominant version of reality, that it’s hard to even share (or continue to think) these beliefs.

Like it is hard to make people even understand just how much injustice I believe I personally faced and how damaging this was, much less how much injustice I think most US children face (which is very significantly more). And that drives me insane, that I cannot make this part of myself visible.

This article does a good job of articulating “yes, it really was very bad, and yes everything I’m describing is common.” Even if you do not believe these claims, it is at the very least clear that the author does.

And for me that alone is a relief.
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How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?

Edit: I'm really happy about my involvement with EA, always have been, and plan to continue increasing my engagement.

I stopped applying for EA jobs because I wasn't even getting a foot in the door. Edit: This reads as sour, really I just got tired of applying for jobs and didn't feel that it made sense to keep aiming for reach scenarios during a pandemic.

I've become more involved on the Discord because I like it, and my involvement pretty much exists completely outside of cause area discussion. I just like the people. But it does definitely passively increase my attention spent on EA ideas.

I moved to SF to meet EAs and moved out due to COVID.

I may have become a little less altruistic in general due to lower QoL causing scarcity mindset, but I expect this to reverse.

Are there good EA projects for helping with COVID-19?

Could be socially beneficial to start a project developing good online conferencing tech, the landscape is pretty limited ATM.

It's OK to feed stray cats

Those stupid reasons: In my previous non-EA group living arrangement, I felt frustrated by the conflict between being locally helpful and globally effective. But then when I got to the EA Hotel, I felt this conflict was resolved yet still wasn't very locally kind or helpful, so maybe the salience of this conflict only ever existed as a justification for being lazy.

I'm curious to know how other people have experienced the transition to and from EA bubbles with respect to this tension.

It's OK to feed stray cats

How much should conflicting desires to be locally kind and globally good affect our choices about living in EA bubbles, where our locally kind choices might multiply the effectiveness of effective people? I had previously felt it was a strong reason to live in an EA bubble, but perhaps this was due to stupid reasons.

Countering imposter syndrome

I have never experienced Imposter Syndrome and have a strong sense that I never would under any circumstances. I have clearly have psychological characteristics that would prevent me from experiencing Imposter Syndrome, for example I seem to have low priors about other people's competence almost always, for better or worse.

I also model myself as having philosophical antibodies against it. But I can't tell the extent to which these antibodies are actually impactful vs. my personality.

For example: I would argue that if I'm surprised at how competent people think I am, and I strongly think they are wrong, then this means I am good at seeming competent, which is valuable. So this should only boost my view of my capabilities.

Another example: If I'm trying to decide whether I belong in a set of people based on a competence threshold, I should always compare myself to the least competent person in the set. The most competent people aren't relevant at all, but people with Imposter Syndrome seem to focus on them to the exclusion of the least competent people.

Do people who experience Imposter Syndrome also possess these beliefs, and it just doesn't matter? Or is this stuff useful to reflect on?

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You don’t have to have the same skills as them, and it’s very unlikely that you will. You’re probably better at some things than they are ... Even if part of what you learn during this experience is “Whoah, this particular type of work is not for me,” that’s a useful thing to learn and will help you move toward whatever your comparative advantage is.

I have never seen writing on Imposter Syndrome that acknowledges a possibility that you really are less competent may have no comparative advantages at all.

Let's imagine this possibility is true... So what?

  • If I am not engaging in direct work... I've scored a position that is more challenging and lucrative than I would have if people knew how incompetent I am, and there's little or no moral cost to the mixup. Score!
  • If I am engaging in direct work... the fact that I am the least competent person in the room does not necessarily mean that I shouldn't be in the room. I might still be doing the most impactful thing I can be!
  • If I am working at a competitive direct work position, maybe I think that I'm blocking somebody more competent from taking the position. This seems like the ONLY case where I should actually worry about seeming more competent than I am. Even in this case, I should be comparing myself to the people who couldn't get my job, not my colleagues!

I have identified relevant factors (nature of work, competitiveness) that should attenuate distress due to Imposter Syndrome, but as far as I can tell, these factors don't attenuate the distress for people with Imposter Syndrome. Would it be useful for people to imagine their worst fears are true, and evaluate how bad that would really be?

I'm interested in feedback.

Best EA use of $500,000AUD/$340,000 USD for basic science?

If I were in your position, I would probably give them a portfolio that included direct basic science funding as well as some things that may not be as direct or basic. I would suggest a distribution but make it clear that they might prefer a different one.

To me this seems like a responsible reaction to the fact that I would think their parameters are somewhat at odds with my own values, and it doesn't require trying to subvert their request. Their value function may even be more similar to mine than I realize-- I'd want to give that prospect a chance to bear out.

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All money given to GiveDirectly funds an RCT about direct cash transfers, so it is a science project. This might not be basic enough or align with your relative's politics, though.

If your relative would be interested in scholarships, a number of people come to the EA Hotel to self-study (usually in math/CS, which seems fairly basic to me). You could cheaply buy study hours by donating to the hotel and earmarking the money for funding self-study.



Four practices where EAs ought to course-correct

Anecdote re: ruthlessness:

During my recent undergrad, I was often openly critical of the cost effectiveness of various initiatives being pushed in my community. I think anyone who has been similarly ruthless is probably familiar with the surprising amount of pushback and alienation that comes from doing this. I think I may have convinced some small portion of people. I ended up deciding that I should focus on circumventing defensiveness by proactively promoting what I thought were good ideas and not criticizing other people's stupid ideas, which essentially amounts to being very nice.

I wonder how well a good ruthlessness strategy about public contexts generalizes to private contexts and vice versa.

How do you, personally, experience "EA motivation"?

A few years ago I had very different priorities, pursuing them was not making me happy, and I guess at some point I correctly realized that I'd be much happier focusing on altruism instead.

  • I really crave creative stimulation and I see my engagement with altruism as a creative pursuit. I have many creative interests but I expect my interest in altruism to be more stable over time and more socially reinforced, so it gets priority. (That's my narrative, at least)
  • I do experience a sense of disgust / antipathy towards what I see as complacency, or failing to engage the world creatively. This isn't necessarily related to altruism but usually I see disinterest in altruism as symptomatic of the kind of complacency that I loathe.
  • I really enjoy maximizing / trying to be good at something, so that's a big part of where focus on effectiveness comes in. Strategizing is the fun part of altruism for me.
  • I am very sensitive to the idea of being manipulated or pressed into conformity, and disgusted when I view people as falling victim to this. For this reason I am skeptical of many memes about what altruistic behavior should look like, and prefer a "rational" approach that is harder to manipulate.
    • I do experience feelings of injustice with respect to stuff like immigration policy, but I don't prioritize responding to those feelings, maybe because I see them as easy to manipulate or whatever.
  • There is virtually no sensation of empathy involved. There is also no sensation of guilt, but there is a sense of frustration when I feel that I am failing to actualize my values.

Edit: After reading some other comments, I'll add that I guess I do feel good about being nice to people close to me, and altruism does generate a similar feeling. I'm hesitant to call this empathy because it's not true that I feel bad about the suffering of distant people, I just feel good about helping.

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